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Service Learning

The Emory DPT Service Learning program just got a big boost from two generous grants recently awarded to Sara Pullen, PT, DPT, MPH, assistant professor,who heads the program. Both grants were awarded from the Emory Office of University-Community Partnerships.

The first, the Community-Engaged Learning Initiatives Grant, will fund needed programs in underserved Atlanta neighborhoods. The second, the Fellows Faculty Program, gives Pullen the funds needed to launch a service learning academic course. Pullen was one of only three faculty members to receive the annual Faculty Fellows awards. “It’s quite an honor,” says Pullen.

Students have already begun participating in local service learning efforts arranged by Pullen. In September, students enjoyed “hands on” experience at the 5th Annual Lazarus Health Day, a health fair for Atlanta’s homeless. Physical therapists and students treated people who had back pain from sleeping on the ground, foot/knee issues from walking in poor footwear and general aches and pains. “We are teaching students to meet people where they are,” says Pullen. “We can’t always change their circumstances, but we can recommend modifications based on those circumstances.”

Service LearningIn October, DPT students will help out at the Hispanic Health Fair. “We’ll look at aches and pains, but will be less clinically focuses and more community health focused,” says Pullen. “We’ll have an informational class and teach some exercises.”

DPT students will also have the opportunity to work with the Emory Autism Center conducting exercise and health education workshops for adults with autism spectrum disorder. Students will lead the workshops, create informational pamphlets and work one-on-one with a client from the Emory Autism Center.

Pullen is also working to create a pro bono physical therapy clinic in Atlanta. “There are pro bono primary care clinics in some areas, but no physical therapy clinics,” she says.

Towards that end, Pullen is affiliating with the Georgia Volunteer Health Care Program (GVHCP), of the Department of Public Health (DPH). The GVHCP provides free Sovereign Immunity (SI), or malpractice protection to contracted licensed volunteer health care professionals and corporations who provide treatment for uninsured patients below the federal poverty level at no cost. The program’s goal is to increase access to quality health care for indigent and low-income residents through volunteerism.

“We are moving forward with becoming part of the GVHCP,” says Pullen. “Our clinic will be the first and only pro bono physical therapy clinic in the state and there is already evidence of a huge need for this service.”

Farther afield, students will be traveling to the Dominican Republic for one week during their March break. Students will have a dual mission: they will provide actual physical therapy to patients and they will also train nurses and other staffers in various physical therapy techniques, such as safe transfer. “We had to limit this first trip to eight students, but we’ve had such a huge response that we’re considering having two trips in the future,” says Pullen.

In addition, students will be working with Atlanta-based League of Hope, a nonprofit focuses on improving the quality of life in Haiti. In the year-long project, students will focus on developing an educational program, creating printed materials and other means of support focused on providing PT services to victims of the 2009 Haitian earthquake. They will also be setting the groundwork for a service trip to Haiti in the future.

“We just had our first meeting with the League of Hope, and 39 first and second year students (third years are away at clinical affiliations) showed up for this initial meeting,” says Pullen “This was the largest turnout that I have ever seen for an initial meeting of a project and that really speaks to the dedication of our students to serving needy communities.”

With funds from the Fellows Faculty Program, Pullen is going to create a service learning academic course. “We’ll look at it from more of an academic, scientific perspective,” says Pullen. “We’ll follow the public health model of doing a needs assessment first and, based on that, performing an intervention. Then we’ll follow up and assessment and student reflection on the experience. My hope is to help students see beyond the clinical physiological needs of their patients and assess patients within the larger context of their community.”

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